The Sum of All Fears: The Effects of Math Anxiety on Math Achievement in Fifth Grade Students and the Implications for School Counselors

 
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The Sum of All Fears: The Effects of Math Anxiety on Math Achievement in Fifth Grade Students and the Implications for School Counselors
The Sum of All Fears: The Effects of Math Anxiety                                         assessed reached only partial mastery of math knowledge and skills fundamental for
                                                                                          proficient work at the 4th grade level. In addition to the national implications from
on Math Achievement in Fifth Grade Students and                                           the results, there are also local implications as a comparison was made amongst
the Implications for School Counselors                                                    the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The results indicated that 4th grade
                                                                                          students from 33 other states scored higher in math literacy than 4th grade students
Sarah E. Ruff and Dr. Susan R. Boes, The University of West Georgia                       in Georgia, students from 15 states scored lower and two states, Arkansas and New
                                                                                          York, scored the same as Georgia students (NCES, 2012). Despite the continued
                                                                                          education reform and political efforts over the past decades, the math achievement
  Abstract                                                                                gap has not closed.
                                                                                          Numerous research studies have been conducted to pin-point the reasons for
  Low math achievement is a recurring weakness in many students. Math                     the gaps in mathematic achievement for American students. The causes are wide
  anxiety is a persistent and significant theme to math avoidance and low                 ranging. It is difficult to single out a particular cause for low achievement for
  achievement. Causes for math anxiety include social, cognitive, and                     American students, but a persistent theme is math anxiety. The negative effects of
  academic factors. Interventions to reduce math anxiety are limited as                   math anxiety on achievement are extensive. Geist (2010) suggests that for many
  they exclude the expert skills of professional school counselors to help                children math achievement is not related to potential level but rather to their fear of
                                                                                          and/or negative attitudes toward math.
  overcome this nervousness. The effectiveness of a school counseling
  small group intervention to reduce math anxiety and increase                            Math anxiety is more than a barrier to math achievement as it has a widespread
                                                                                          impact on other aspects of students’ lives. Seen as early as kindergarten, math
  achievement in fifth grade participants is presented.
                                                                                          anxiety can impede initial learning which results in poor math skills and negatively
                                                                                          affect long-term academic success and career choices (Ashcraft, 2002; & Wu, Barth,
                                                                                          Amin, Malcame, & Menon, 2012). Highly math anxious students tend to avoid math
Since President John F. Kennedy challenged congress in May of 1961 to be the              in general; anxiety prevents completion of small tasks as homework or paying a
first country to put a man on the moon, the United States has worked to reform            restaurant bill and large ones like excluding math and science related career path
education and increase achievement to keep up with the achievement displayed              options (Beilock, Gunderson, Ramirez, & Levine, 2010).
by students in other countries. Even after winning the race to the moon in 1969,
the United States continues to struggle to match its international counterparts           Math anxiety is more than nervousness before a math test; it has pervasive negative
in mathematic achievement. In 2009, The Program for International Student                 impacts on math learning, everyday life, and career choices. This Action Research
Assessment (PISA) performed a cross-country comparison on the performance of 15           Study (ARS) reviewed the literature related to math anxiety in children. Current
year-old students in reading, mathematics and science. American students scored           interventions to reduce math anxiety are presented. Additionally, gaps in the
below the international average in mathematic literacy. Among 33 industrialized           literature and action research related to school counseling interventions for math
countries, 17 countries had higher average scores than U.S. students, five countries      anxiety for elementary students also are addressed.
had lower average scores, and 11 countries had scores that were not statistically         Literature Review
different from American students (National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES),
                                                                                          Since long-term negative impacts of math anxiety begins as early as kindergarten
2011).
                                                                                          (Ashcraft, 2001) this literature review focuses on early onset in children and
In 2012, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), group provided           proposes interventions to reverse harmful effects. Children are defined as
a snapshot of the condition of education in the United States based on results from       elementary school-age students. To identify relevant scholarly peer-reviewed
its 2011 national study. Students in 4th, 8th, and 12th grade were assessed in reading,   literature, the parameters were set to research definitions, causes, and interventions
mathematics, and social studies. Eighty two percent of the elementary students            for math anxiety related to elementary students.

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Definitions of Math Anxiety                            encompass the traditional math curriculum used in classrooms, ineffective teaching
                       For decades, the subject of math has been plagued      styles, and the influence of math anxious teachers.
Richardson             with fear and anxiety by some students. As early       Social factors. Gillen-O’Neel, Ruble, & Fuligini, (2011) found students aware of
                       as the 1950’s, educators and researchers began         negative subgroup stigmas are more likely to exhibit anxiety, poor self-esteem,
and Suinn              to recognize the significance and prevalence of        and lack motivation. Several studies attribute elevated math anxiety and low math
                       students with fears and negative attitudes toward      achievement in females to the enduring stereotype, that “Girls are not good at
(1972) defined         math. Studies emerged trying to identify and define    math” (Beilock et al., 2010; Geist, 2010, Sparks, 2011; Tobias, 1978 ). Sparks (2011)
                       this phenomenon. After observing students struggle     reviewed studies confirming that regardless of math ability, girls are more likely to
math anxiety           with math, Gough (1954) described her students’        have higher math anxiety and lower math achievement than boys.
                       fear and avoidance of math as a disease and called
as stress              for interventions to help these students. Dreger
                                                                              The perpetuation of stereotypes also increases math anxiety and poor self-esteem in
                                                                              other minorities. Renya (2000) revealed that ethnic minorities are more apt to lose
                       and Aiken (1957) described “number anxiety”
causing                as negative emotional responses to mathematics.
                                                                              motivation and interest in math when stereotyped as low achievers. Due to self-
                                                                              doubt and anxiety, African Americans who are doing poorly in math, consistent with
                       Richardson and Suinn (1972) defined math anxiety
negative               as stress causing negative physical reactions that
                                                                              the stereotype, are more likely to disengage in tests and activities than are white
                                                                              students. Gillen-O’Neel et al., (2011) explained elementary-aged ethnic students are
                       interfere with the manipulation of numbers and
physical               problem solving in both academic settings and
                                                                              aware of negative stigmas and this is linked with higher levels of academic anxiety
                                                                              and less motivation in comparison to their non-minority peers.
                       everyday life. Additional studies from the 1970’s to
reactions              present day used these definitions or similar ones     Beyond gender and racial stereotypes, parental expectations and beliefs related to
                       for math anxiety. All definitions include an extreme   education can negatively affect self-esteem and students’ attitudes towards math.
that interfere         negative physical, emotional, and cognitive reaction   Scarpello (2007) discusses math anxious students from low SES backgrounds often
                       to math that hinders a person’s ability to learn and   have less educated parents who also struggle with math anxiety. Often negative
with the               perform math activities (Ashcraft, 2002; Beilock, et   parental attitudes and beliefs are passed on and academic achievement is not
                       al., 2009; Henry & Chiu, 1990; Mattarella-Micke,       encouraged. Rown-Kenyon, Swan, & Creager, (2012) explained that parental support
manipulation           Mateo, Kozak, Foster, & Beilock, 2011; Tobias,         is crucial to the self-efficacy in math and science demonstrated by students. Students
                       1978). For this ARS, math anxiety is defined as an     of low SES status may lack this support due to their parents not being physically
of numbers             intense fear, nervousness, and dread related to math
                       leading to avoidance of mathematic activities and
and problem            impedes math learning (Ashcraft, 2002).
                                                                                Causes for Math Anxiety
                                                                                The literature discussing causes and/or contributing factors for the
solving in both        Causes for Math Anxiety
                                                                                prevalence of math anxiety in elementary students involves various
                       The literature discussing causes and/or contributing
                                                                                social, cognitive, and academic elements. Social factors include
academic               factors for the prevalence of math anxiety in
                                                                                continued race and gender stigmas and lack of parental support in low
                       elementary students involves various social,
settings and           cognitive, and academic elements. Social factors
                                                                                socioeconomic (SES) households. Cognitive factors comprise dyscalculia
                       include continued race and gender stigmas and            and deficits in working memory. Academic factors encompass the
everyday life.         lack of parental support in low socioeconomic (SES)      traditional math curriculum used in classrooms, ineffective teaching
                       households. Cognitive factors comprise dyscalculia       styles, and the influence of math anxious teachers.
                       and deficits in working memory. Academic factors

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present or lacking the educational          that the cognitive element of working       (Perry 2004). Swars, Daane, and Geisen, (2010)
background to help the students with        memory is a strong predictor of skill       agreed that math classes using traditional curriculum
homework. Social expectations, negative     acquisition. Students with higher           which concentrates on basic skills, teacher lecture,
stereotypes, and lack of support in         levels of working memory may be             seatwork, and whole class instruction are more            The students
academic and family settings increase       more susceptible to stress and anxiety      likely to have students with math anxiety than math
the chances of math anxiety in students.    which negatively impacts their math         classes that utilize non-traditional curriculum which     lack the ability
Cognitive factors. Biological make-         learning and performance. Willis (2010)     focuses on real-life applications and group work.
up in regards to cognition can              explained that the emotional reactions      In addition to research that traditional curriculum
                                                                                                                                                  to understand
increase susceptibility to math anxiety.    of math anxiety can shut down working       increases math anxiety, extensive literature is
Sparks (2011) interviewed several           memory that is needed to learn and          dedicated to how teachers’ relationships, attitudes,
                                                                                                                                                  the “why” of
neurologists studying math learning         solve problems. She states “when            and efficacy influence math anxiety. Current
and performance. A wide range of            students are stressed, they can’t use       research indicates that teachers who struggle
                                                                                                                                                  mathematics
math learning disabilities, also known      their thinking brains” (p. 10). Cognitive   personally with fear and anxiety related to math
as dyscalculia, was linked to math          factors are considerable components         inadvertently pass on math anxiety to their students
                                                                                                                                                  and instead
anxiety. Neurologists found difficulties    contributing to the level of math anxiety   (Beilock et al., 2010; Bekdemir, 2010; Geist, 2010;
recognizing the differences in numerical    demonstrated in elementary students.        Renya, 2000 & Swars et al., 2010). Bekdemir
                                                                                                                                                  regurgitate
magnitude also exhibited high levels of     Academic factors. Academic factors          (2010) explained that a majority of math anxious
math anxiety. Numerical magnitude,          also carry a heavy influence on math        individuals report fear onset and hatred of math to
                                                                                                                                                  facts. As
identifying which of two numbers is         anxiety. Geist (2010) believes math         a negative experience with a hostile or inadequate
bigger, is a foundational concept for       curriculum used in public school            teacher during elementary school. Beilock et al.
                                                                                                                                                  a result,
advanced math learning. Elementary          classrooms contributes to math              (2010) reported that 1 year with a math anxious
students with this deficiency could         difficulties. Reliance on timed tests and   elementary teacher was correlated with lower
                                                                                                                                                  students
develop poor self-esteem, frustration,      memorization has increased anxiety          math achievement and increased negative attitudes
and negative reactions to math as           making math a high-risk activity. Many      toward math in students. Math anxious teachers
                                                                                                                                                  quickly forget
they are introduced to more complex         college students who exhibit math           perpetuate math anxiety as they lack confidence in
concepts.                                   anxiety presented negative experiences      their ability to teach math. These frustrated teachers
                                                                                                                                                  the concepts
                                            they had in elementary math classes.        spend more time avoiding math and relying on
Students with average to high math
                                            Current math curriculum in elementary       answer keys in textbooks than learning how to
                                                                                                                                                  they have
capabilities also may have cognitive
                                            grade levels does not provide conceptual    teach math creatively. Geist (2010) suggested that
factors that could attribute to math
                                            understanding of mathematics; instead       math anxiety appears from the way it is taught in
                                                                                                                                                  learned and
anxiety. Mattarella-Micke et al. (2011)
                                            it focuses on acquisition of superficial    math class and may have been presented to math
discussed that high math anxious
                                            knowledge of basic computational skills     teachers when they were children.
                                                                                                                                                  experience
students tend to have lower cognitive
                                            and math operations. The students lack
skills than their less math anxious peers
                                            the ability to understand the “why” of
                                                                                        Interventions for Math Anxiety                            continuous
due to avoidance of math activities and                                                 Despite the various proposed causes, math anxiety
                                            mathematics and instead regurgitate
practice yet may have high inherent
                                            facts. As a result, students quickly        results in one significant negative consequence, low      frustration.
capabilities. Ramirez, Gunderson,                                                       math achievement. As researchers recognized and
Levine, & Beilock (in press) found          forget the concepts they have learned
                                            and experience continuous frustration       investigated the causes for math anxiety and its link

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to low math achievement they designed and implemented interventions to reduce            students cope with math anxiety yet a         including social, cognitive and academic
math anxiety in elementary students. Some researchers explored the social factors        further search of the literature related to   factors. Based on these causes, some
and developed interventions to raise awareness of gender and racial stereotypes          school counseling and anxiety varied          early interventions were developed
for school staff. Parent education and workshops were suggested to increase              in suggestions to assist kindergarten         to reduce math anxiety in elementary
student support of academic endeavors at school and home (Geist, 2010; Gillen            to college students. Many of the              students. These include, parent and
-O’Neel et al., 2011; Renya, 2000; Tobias, 1978). Other researchers focused on the       interventions varied from moderate            teacher trainings negative social stigmas,
cognitive factors of math anxiety and discussed changes in assessment techniques to      school phobia and generalized anxiety         early assessment and specialized
identify early math learning disabilities and specialized instruction (Ashcraft, 2002;   disorder to test anxiety and transitional     education for students with math
Mattarella-Micke et al., 2011; Mundia, 2012; Ramirez et al., in press) Changes in        stress (Bruce, Getch, & Ziomek-Daigle,        learning disabilities, new and creative
curriculum such as group work, open discussion, real-life applications, and group        2009; Cheek, Bradley, Reynolds, &             math curriculum, building teacher
or peer assessments were offered as interventions to replace anxiety provoking           Coy, 2012; Miller, Short, Garland, &          confidence in math, and increasing
traditional math curriculum (Geist, 2010; Sparks, 2011; Willis, 2010;). Additional       Clark, 2010). When keywords limited           positive learning environments.
researchers focused on encouraging teachers to explore their own math anxiety and        the search to school counseling and           Research supports that interventions
take steps to create stress free and positive classroom environments (Beilock et al.,    math anxiety fewer documents were             have positive results when implemented
2010; Bekdemir, 2010; Swars et al., 2010).                                               suggested. Two promising studies              effectively. Weaknesses for interventions
Gaps in the Literature                                                                   incorporated cognitive-behavioral             include amending district policies and
                                                                                         therapy techniques such as cognitive          procedures and relying heavily on
The interventions discussed are valuable if implemented effectively, but they rely       reframing to replace negative and             curriculum and classroom instruction
heavily on systemic and social change that is not easily attained. Moreover, the         fearful thoughts related to mathematics       changes which could add extra exertion
majority of these interventions focus on instructional or classroom changes which        with positive visualizations of success       to already overwhelmed classroom
require instituting more work, planning, and training to already overwhelmed             and achievement, however these                teachers. Fantuzzo et al. (2012) revealed
classroom teachers. Additionally, the interventions seem to neglect the psychological    focused on high school and college-           that high levels of teachers’ job stress
and emotional aspects of math anxiety. Schools employ professional school                aged students (Perry, 2004; Shobe,            were related to increased responsibilities
counselors (PSCs) who are uniquely trained to assist students with a wide range          Brewin, & Carmack, 2005). The majority        and instructional changes that decreased
of academic and personal/social stressors and could be effectively used to help          of counseling research for math anxiety       their time dedicated to teaching math
                                                                                         was conducted in colleges and high            and reading basics. Moreover, these
                                                                                         schools and little in elementary schools.     studies are limited as they ignore the
                                                                                         Academic success in the area of math          expert qualities and skills of PSCs as
                                                                                         achievement proves to be a recurring          possible resources to reduce math
                                                                                         weakness in American students. This           anxiety in elementary students. The
                                                                                         gap has been documented as early as           deficit in this literature warranted this
                                                                                         kindergarten. A persistent and significant    ARS that designs, implements, and
                                                                                         theme related to low math achievement         evaluates the effectiveness of PSC’s
                                                                                         is math anxiety. The research suggests        to reduce math anxiety in fifth grade
                                                                                         several causes for math anxiety               students.

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Method                                                                                 (MCOMP) and the Math Concepts and Applications measure (MCAP) benchmarks
This action research (AR) was defined as a study conducted by a PSC within the         used by the district are standardized and nationally normed. These data served
school environment to gather information about a counseling intervention and how       as a baseline measure and the criteria to identify students to participate in the
the participants responded to the intervention. The AR goal was to gain insight by     intervention. Baseline scores and spring scores on the MCAP and MCOMP were
evaluating the intervention effectiveness and developing new practices to improve      compared to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention.
student outcomes and the lives of those involved (Mills, 2011). This ARS addressed     Post-intervention teacher interviews were conducted for triangulation data. A
how PSC skills in personal/social development make them uniquely qualified to          16 item questionnaire composed of rating scales and open-ended questions
assist students in overcoming barriers in math learning by reducing math anxiety       was developed and used during structured interviews with teachers about their
(Barna & Brott, 2011). A mixed method design was used to identify the nature and       observations and perceptions of the impact the small group intervention had on
degree of problems in math achievement for fifth grade students, in a Georgia public   participants. The teacher questionnaire was developed from the literature and not
suburban elementary school, by exploring their attitudes and beliefs about math.       tested for validity or reliability.
There were three research questions (RQs)                                              Identification and Recruitment of Participants
1) How does math anxiety negatively impact math achievement in fifth grade             Student participants. Fourteen students were identified as possible participants
   students?                                                                           in the intentional small group intervention to reduce math anxiety and increase
2) How can PSCs reduce math anxiety and reverse the negative effects on math           achievement. They did not meet the winter target on one or both math sections
   achievement?                                                                        of the benchmark assessment and showed significant scores on the MASC. Parent
                                                                                       consent and student assent were acquired from 13 students (N= 13): 6 females (3
3) How can the results from the intervention be used to make improvements in           African-American, 2 Caucasian, and 1 Hispanic) and 7 males (6 African-American,
   future counseling programs to address math achievement?                             and 1 Hispanic). These demographics were consistent with the literature.
Instrumentation                                                                        Teacher participants. Fifth grade teachers were asked to participate in interviews
RQ 1 was confirmed from previous research collecting data about the negative           about group effectiveness. The volunteers taught math to one or more participants
attitudes and beliefs young students have towards math. The Math Anxiety Scale for     daily.
Children (MASC) (Henry & Chiu, 1990) was administered to all fifth grade students      Materials and Procedures
(N=63). This survey contains 22 items related to math that students rated on a 4
point Likert scale. The MASC demonstrated validity and reliability through a factor    RQ 2 was addressed by designing and implementing a small group intervention
analysis compared to other assessments used to measure math anxiety (Henry &           with fifth grade participants in a lunch and learn format. The group met twice a
Chiu, 1990; Beasley, Long & Natali, 2001). In addition to the MASC, students were      week for 6 weeks for 12 sessions facilitated by the PSC. The curriculum was based
asked 5 open ended questions (ARS Survey) probing feelings and perceptions about       on Building Math Confidence by Brigman and Goodman (2008) and Managing
math. Besides the ARS Survey, the PSC developed a Post-Test consisting of 5 open-      the Mean Math Blues: Math Study Skills for Student Success by Ooten and Moore
ended questions to probe the small group intervention’s impact on participants’        (2010). Session topics included identifying and expressing feelings, positive
attitudes and beliefs about math and improvement in coping skills. The ARS Survey      and negative self-talk, changing negative thought patterns, stress reduction and
and the Post-Test items were designed for this ARS and were not tested for validity    relaxation exercises, self-advocacy-knowing when and how to ask for help, goal
or reliability.                                                                        setting, accepting mistakes as a part of learning, celebrating success, specific math
                                                                                       study skills, journaling, self -evaluation, and termination. At the final session, a
MASC scores and ARS survey results were compared to the student’s scores on            second MASC, ARS Survey, and Post-Test items were administered to assess any
the winter math benchmark exams. The AIMSweb Math Computation Measure                  impact on beliefs and attitudes toward math. Participants participated in the spring

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administration of the AIMSweb MCOMP and                and participant’s pre and post attitudes and beliefs toward math. Qualitative data
                       MCAP.                                                  was translated into numeric form to represent the percentage of positive and
                       Data gathered during the post-intervention teacher     negative themes found in teacher and student responses.
                       interviews summarized teacher observations related     Results
                       to the participants’ use of skills and strategies      Quantitative Student Data
                       gained from the group. Additionally, teachers
                       related changes they noticed in attitude and           To measure the impact of the intervention on participants’ stress and anxiety levels
                       motivation in math class, and behavior changes         in math, both MASC scores were compared for each participant (Figure 1). The
                       they observed related to the subject of math.
Post data              Data Analysis

demonstrated           Qualitative and quantitative data was gathered
                       and analyzed by using a mixed methods design of
most                   grounded theory and descriptive statistics. Data
                       analysis was meant to confirm the literature’s
participants           description of the negative effects of math anxiety
                       on math achievement in elementary students. Other
experienced            data was analyzed to measure the effectiveness of
                       the small group intervention to reduce math anxiety
lower levels of        and increase math achievement.
                       Quantitative data. Both MASC scores were                         Figure 1: Comparison of Student Participants First and Second MASC Scores
math anxiety           analyzed using descriptive statistics to compare
                       percentage changes in participants’ scores after
and increased          the intervention. Descriptive statistics compared      results demonstrated 46% of participants (N=6) had a decrease, 31% (N=4) had an
                                                                              increase, and 23% (N=3) of the MASC scores remained the same.
                       percentage of change on spring and winter
math                   benchmark scores. Post data demonstrated most          To examine the impact of the intervention on math achievement, the winter and
                       participants experienced lower levels of math          spring fifth grade math benchmark scores were compared. Analysis of basic math
achievement.           anxiety and increased math achievement.                computation skills displayed that 84% of participants (N=10) increased their second
                       Qualitative data. All qualitative data were analyzed   MCOMP score, 8% (N= 1) decreased the score, and 8% (N=1) had the same score.
                       using grounded theory. The goals of grounded           The MCAP measures students’ skills in math concepts and applications. Results
                       theory are to code qualitative responses and           revealed 58% of participants (N=7) had an increase, 33% (N=4) had a decrease,
                       classify into emerging themes (Walker & Myrick,        and 8% of the participants (N= 1) had the same MCAP score. One participant was
                       2006). Attention was paid to themes that correlated    absent and did not participate in the second benchmark administration.
                       with the literature connecting math anxiety and
                       low math achievement. For triangulation, teacher
                       interviews were coded and compared for similar
                       themes relating to the impact of the intervention

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Qualitative Student Data                                                                             After identifying the themes, theme frequency before and after small group
Using grounded theory five themes emerged from the ARS survey responses to                           intervention was charted and translated into numerical percentages. Student
include stress and frustration, negative self-talk and avoidance behaviors, positive                 responses before the small group intervention determined 52% displayed stress and
attitudes toward math, and positive self-talk and motivated behaviors (See Figure A).                frustration with math, 18% displayed negative self-talk and avoidance behavior, 14%
                                                                                                     displayed positive attitudes toward math, and 16% displayed positive self-talk and
 Figure A: Qualitative Matrix of Student Responses to ARS Survey                                     motivated behaviors. The frequency changed after the small the group intervention
                                                                                                     as only 30% of the respondents reported stress and frustration, 5% displayed
 Pre-Intervention       Examples                   Post-Intervention      Examples
 Themes                                            Themes                                            negative self-talk and avoidance behavior, 30% revealed positive attitudes toward
                                                                                                     math, and 35% displayed positive self-talk and motivated behaviors.
 Stress & Frustration   “It’s really scary when    Stress & Frustration   “I get a little nervous”
 52%                    you get called to the      30%                    “Math is boring            Another post-test item asked students to respond to the following: Imagine you are
                        board.”                                           “Freak Math!”
                        “I don’t like math and I                          “Difficult”                in math class and you are about to take a test. How do you feel? The majority of
                        am afraid of math.”                               “Math is a little hard.”   participants still found this to be an anxiety provoking situation as 92% displayed
                        “I get scared when I                                                         stress and frustration and only 8% displayed positive feelings and attitudes (See
                        don’t get the problem.”
                        “I get really scared and                                                     Figure B).
                        start sweating.”
                        “I feel stupid and                                                            Figure B: Qualitative Matrix of Student Responses to Post-Test Questions 1-2
                        can’t do it”
                        “Really confusing and                                                         Imagine you are in     Examples                    Imagine you are in Examples
                        frustrating”                                                                  math class and you                                 math class and you
                                                                                                      are about to take a                                are about to take a
 Negative Self-talk &   “Math is hard for me.”     Negative Self-talk &   “Math is hard for
 Avoidance Behaviors    “I give up instantly.”     Avoidance Behaviors    me.”                        test? How do you                                   test? What do you
 18%                    “I just sit there and      5%                     “I give up instantly.”      Feel?                                              do?
                        scratch my head.”                                 “I just sit there and       Stress & Frustration   “Nervous”                   Positive Self-Talk   “Have confidence and
                        “I mess with my hair.”                            scratch my head.”           92%                    “Mad”                       & Motivated          say I can do it”
                        “I say I can’t do it.                             “I mess with my hair.”                             “I feel like I might pass   Behaviors            “Say I can do this”
                        “I am dumb and don’t                              “I say I can’t do it.                              or fail”                    85%                  “Count to Ten”
                        know anything.”                                   “I am dumb and don’t                               “Like butterflies are in                         “Practice”
                        “I feel stupid and help-                          know anything.”                                    my stomach”                                      “I keep on trying”
                        less”                                                                                                “Scared”                                         “Relax”
 Positive Attitudes     “Sometimes math is         Positive Attitudes     “Math is an education                              “Mad and anxious”                                “Ask for help when it’s
 Toward Math            hard but sometimes it      Toward Math            that helps your brain                              “Sometimes stress”                               time to check”
 14%                    is not.”                   30%                    to think everyday”                                 “Worried”                                        “Meditate”
                        “Math is great.”                                  “Math is about                                                                                      “I breathe in and out and
                        “Math is good for you.”                           dealing with real life                                                                              count to 10”
                        “Ok”                                              problems.”                  Positive Feelings      “Ok”                        Negative Self-Talk   “Hold my tummy”
                                                                          “Kind of cool”              & Attitude                                         & Avoidance          “Tense up and get
                                                                          “Better now”                8%                                                 Behaviors            nervous”
 Positive Self-talk &   “I would ask the           Positive Self-talk &   “I can do it”                                                                  15%
 Motivated Behaviors    teacher                    Motivated Behaviors    “I can do this.”
 16%                    to help me.”               35%                    “I’ll try this again.”     The same situation was described and participants were asked what do you do?
                        “I would solve the                                 “Keep trying ask          A majority responded positively to the situation as 85% displayed positive self-
                        problem.”                                         questions”                 talk and motivated behaviors and 15% displayed negative self-talk and avoidance
                        “Ask teacher for help”                            “I just count to ten.”
                        “Ask for some help.”                               “I try my best.”          behaviors (See Figure B). The participants were asked to describe their feelings about

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math before joining the small group and 92% of the responses displayed stress and                  mistakes. Thirty eight percent observed increased participation and completed
frustration with math and 8% displayed positive feelings and attitudes toward math.                assignments, 38% responded participants display confidence and positive attitudes,
When asked to describe feelings about math after participation 100% displayed                      and 24% responded participants were less fearful and accepted mistakes.
positive feelings and attitudes toward math (See Figure C).
                                                                                                     Figure D: Qualitative Matrix of Teacher Responses to Structured Interview
 Figure C: Qualitative Matrix of Student Responses to Post-Test Questions 4-5                        Question 15
 Describe how you       Examples                  Describe how you      Examples                     Describe how the small        Examples
 felt about math                                  feel about math                                    math confidence building
 before joining                                   after participating                                group contributed to math
 math group?                                      in math group?                                     achievement
 Stress & Frustration   “I had always hated it”   Positive Feelings     “I feel like I have pro-     Increased participation and   “I had always hated it”
 92%                    “It sucked I failed       & Attitude            gressed”                     completed assignments 38%     “It sucked I failed everything”
                        everything”               100%                  “I get 2s and 3s”                                          “I hated math before joining”
                        “I hated math before                            “I feel good and confi-                                    “Like I am stupid”
                        joining”                                        dent”                                                      “Hated it”
                        “Like I am stupid”                              “A little better”                                          “Scared”
                        “Hated it”                                      “Easy”                                                     “Stress”
                        “Scared”                                        “Good”                                                     “I hated math and wished it never existed.”
                        “Stress”                                        “Pretty Good”                                              “Dumb”
                        “I hated math and                               “I feel very happy and                                     “Nervous”
                        wished                                          calm”                                                      “Very Very Stressed”
                        it never existed.”                              “Smart”
                                                                                                     Displays confidence and       “She gives when called upon in class, she’s more confident in
                        “Dumb”                                          “Awesome”
                                                                                                     positive attitude 38%         herself.”
                        “Nervous”                                       “Like I can do it”
                                                                                                                                   “She believes that she will pass math on the CRCT and I believe
                        “Very Very Stressed”                            “I love it”
                                                                                                                                   she has a chance to.”
 Positive Feelings      “I loved it”                                                                                               “Strong use of positive self-talk”
 & Attitude 8%
                                                                                                     Less fearful and accepts      “Calm demeanor which leads to methodic step by step
                                                                                                     mistakes 24%                  approach to math”
Qualitative Teacher Data                                                                                                           “He seems more willing to share his answers or
Teachers rated each student’s stress level in math class using a scale of 0-10                                                     explanation even though he wasn’t sure he was right”
                                                                                                                                   “He seems more assertive, He’s not scared to be
before and after the small group intervention. Responses revealed a decrease in                                                    wrong because he knows he’s going to get help”
participants’ stress level in math class as the mean stress level before joining the
math group was 5.6 and the level after participation was 3.0. Teachers’ responses                  Discussion
also displayed an increase in participation in math class after the intervention as                Comparison of baseline and post-intervention data answered RQ1. All fifth grade
the mean involvement before joining the small group was 5.6 and the current mean                   participants had high MASC and low math achievement scores on one or both
after participation was 7.8. When asked if the small group contributed to increased                winter math benchmarks. A lower second MASC score correlates to a decrease
math achievement, 75% stated “Yes”, 17% were “Not Sure”, and 8% said “No”.                         in math anxiety, a higher second MASC score correlates with an increase in math
The teachers were asked to describe how the small group was effective in increasing                anxiety, and the same score on the MASC correlates with the same level of math
math achievement. Common themes were coded and frequencies were translated                         anxiety exhibited by participants after the small group intervention. To measure the
into numerical percentages (See Figure D). Three themes emerged from teacher                       effects of math anxiety on math achievement the data from the second MASC and
observation of participants in class, increased participation and assignment                       spring benchmark assessments were analyzed. Of the 46% (N=6) of participants
completion, displays confidence and positive attitude, and less fearful and accepting              who displayed a decrease in math anxiety on the second MASC, 83% (N=5) scored

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higher on the spring benchmark MCOMP and 67% (N=4) showed improvement                     Limitations
in their MCAP scores indicating an increase in math achievement. Of the 31%               Triangulation of data indicates the small group           Triangulation of
(N=4) who showed an increase in math anxiety on the second MASC, 75% (N=3)                intervention was moderately effective; however,
scored higher on the MCOMP and 25% (N=1) showed improvement in the MCAP.                  other variables may have been involved. It is possible
                                                                                                                                                    data indicates
These findings are consistent with the literature correlating math anxiety and math
achievement as more achievement growth was demonstrated in participants who
                                                                                          that teacher instruction and classroom interventions      the small group
                                                                                          increased math skills and abilities which led to
displayed less math anxiety (Ashcraft, 2002; Beilock, et al., 2009; Henry & Chiu,         increased confidence and a reduction in math              intervention
1990; Mattarella-Mick et al., 2011; Tobias, 1978; Wu et al., 2012).                       anxiety.
RQ2 was answered by evaluating effectiveness of the small group intervention
                                                                                                                                                    was moderately
                                                                                          This ARS was limited in controlling possible
to reduce math anxiety. The counseling intervention was moderately effective              stressful situations that may have contributed to         effective;
in reducing math anxiety and its effects on math achievement as nearly half of            an increase in math anxiety and decrease in math
the participants scored lower on the second MASC and the majority of these                achievement. These include teacher/student conflicts,
                                                                                                                                                    however, other
participants had higher spring math benchmark scores. Moreover, a majority of the
teachers reported improvements in confidence and participation in math class and
                                                                                          peer conflicts, teaching styles and traditional math      variables may
                                                                                          instruction, and pressure to perform well on high
75% stated the small group intervention contributed to math achievement. These            stakes assessments. Teachers noted peer conflicts         have been
results indicate the PSC is uniquely qualified to build confidence and increase math      as a possible source of inconsistency in students’
achievement in fifth grade students through a small counseling group intervention.        motivation and performance. Participants also             involved. It
Considerations                                                                            reported negative peer interactions, teaching styles      is possible
It is possible that some participants who increased MASC scores underrated                and teacher conflicts as continuous sources of stress
their anxiety on the first MASC or over reported it on the second MASC. This is           in math class. Students expressed anxious feelings        that teacher
                                                                                          about the upcoming CRCT administration as fifth
suggested as post-test qualitative data showed 92% reported feeling stress and
                                                                                          graders are required to meet expectations on the          instruction
frustration in math before the intervention and 100% reported positive attitudes
and feelings toward math after the small group intervention. Other factors could          math and reading portions to advance to sixth grade.
                                                                                          Although, positive coping skills were taught and
                                                                                                                                                    and classroom
have contributed to the higher second MASC scores. In the structured interviews,
teachers commented that some participants showed inconsistency in math class that         practiced in the small group intervention, the PSC        interventions
they attributed to variables such as bullying situations, frequent school absences or     could not control participant’s continued exposure to
difficult transition to a new school. Another factor may have been an increase in         these factors.                                            increased
stress among students as the administration of the Criterion Referenced Competency        This ARS was limited to a relatively small group of       math skills and
Test (CRCT) was near.                                                                     participants. Gladding (2012) suggests that psycho-
Lastly, throughout the group intervention several participants reported stress and        educational groups can be large yet are most              abilities which
                                                                                          effective with 8-12 participants. The small group
frustration with math teachers and instruction. These factors are consistent with
                                                                                          intervention was based on these parameters to
                                                                                                                                                    led to increased
causes for math anxiety found in the literature (Geist 2010; Perry, 2004; Swars et al.,
2010). Continuous exposure to these stressful situations could have increased the         include a maximum of 15 participants, approximately       confidence and
students’ level of math anxiety.                                                          one-fourth of fifth grade students. In the structured
                                                                                          interviews, teachers discussed other students who         a reduction in
                                                                                          may have benefited and were not included in the
                                                                                          study.
                                                                                                                                                    math anxiety.

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Future Implications                                                                       References
The results and limitations reveal areas for improvement and expansion (RQ                Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development Experiments by Nature and
3). Consistent with the literature, factors such as traditional math instruction and           Design. Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press.
teaching styles could not be controlled and might have impacted the effectiveness         Denbo, S. J. (2002). Why can’t we close the achievement gap? In S. J. Denbo & L. Moore
of the intervention. Future studies should examine how PSC’s advocate for                     Beaulieu (Eds.), Improving schools for African American students: A reader for
students and address math concerns with administration and faculty. PSC’s could               educational leaders (pp. 13 – 18).
teach faculty to identify students with math anxiety and incorporate interventions
                                                                                          Ford, D. & Trotman, M. (2001). Teacher of gifted students: Suggested multicultural
into classroom instruction that reduce stress and frustration for these students.
                                                                                               characteristics and competencies. Roeper Review, 23(4), 235 – 243.
Discussions with administration should center on monitoring teaching styles that
increase math anxiety and encouraging positive math learning environments in the          Gray, T., & Fleischman, S. (2005). Successful strategies for english language learners.
classroom.                                                                                     Educational Leadership, 62(4),84-85.

In future ARS the PSC should consider the timing of the small group interventions.        Georgia Department of Education. (2012). Georgia Resource Manual for Gifted Education
Changing the time of the small group was suggested by three teacher participants.             Services. (Available from Georgia Department of Education, 205 Jessie Hill Jr. Drive,
Before or after school scheduled group times could allow for less interruption                Atlanta, GA.
of classroom instruction and longer periods for group intervention. School year           Hispanic Education Fact Sheet. (2008). Retrieved September 28, 2012 from
schedule should also be considered as students feelings about the upcoming spring              http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/pathways/immigration/fact.htm.
CRCT administration may have been stressful.                                              Lopez, F. (2010). Identity and motivation among hispanic english language learners in
Lastly, the limitation of this ARS to a relatively small group of participants suggests       disparate educational contexts. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 18(16)
expansion to include larger student populations. One teacher commented that               McBee, M. (2006). A descriptive analysis of referral sources for gifted identification screening
she felt all fifth grade students could benefit from the skills and lessons addressed        by race and socioeconomic status. Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 17(2),103-111.
in the small group intervention. This preliminary ARS was designed to measure if
                                                                                          Moore III, J. L., Ford, D. Y., & Milner, H. (2005). Underachievement among gifted students of
confidence was built by participation. Possible benefits for all fifth grade students
                                                                                              color: Implications for educators. Theory Into Practice, 44(2), 167-177.
needs to be reviewed. Future ARS could be expanded to include classroom
guidance to build math confidence with all fifth graders.                                 National Center for Education Statistics (2011). Retrieved March 9, 2013 from
                                                                                               http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/studies/gaps/hwfaq.asp#size_rank
In a final conclusion, more research addressing the psychological and social aspects
of math learning and achievement are needed. PSC’s are uniquely qualified to              Ratts, M., Toporek, R., Lewis, J. (2010). ACA Competencies: A social justice framework for
identify and create interventions to address these aspects of math learning. As                counselors. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
school leaders, PSC’s are called to be actively involved with the mission of the          Ramos, E. (2010). Let Us In: Latino underrepresentation in gifted and talented programs.
school in advocating for the personal/social and academic needs of the students.             Journal of Cultural Diversity, 17(4),151-153.
PSC’s can do so by raising awareness of the psychological aspect of math learning
                                                                                          Shaffer, S. Ortman, P.E., & Denbo, S. J. (2002). The effects of racism, socioeconomic class,
among faculty and administration and encouraging collaboration to incorporate
                                                                                               and gender on the academic achievement of African American students. In S. J. Denbo
interventions to address this aspect in math instruction. By developing classroom              & L. Moore Beaulieu (Eds.), Improving schools for African American Students: A reader
guidance and other counseling interventions to effectively reduce math anxiety and             for educational leaders (pp. 19 – 29). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
increase math achievement, the PSC develops a comprehensive school counseling
program that aligns with the academic focus of the school’s mission.                      Williamson, A.M. (2012 October 12). My Students don’t speak English. Educational Horizons
                                                                                               Magazine. v.91.
                                                                                          U.S. Department of Education, Biennial Evaluation Report. (1993). Jacob J. Javits Gifted and
                                                                                               Talented Students Education Program (FY 93 – 94).

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